Principles of Anabaptism

As you all know from an earlier post that I made, I am a recently converted Anabaptist. I still do not have a church yet, but I am searching. For now, I see myself as an Anabaptist seeker or an “Anarcho-Anabaptist”. Despite my lack of a specific Anabaptist tradition, there is still the larger tradition of Anabaptism that I most certainly identify with. Of course, there is a lot of diversity within that tradition — liberals, conservatives, radicals, and even fundamentalists. All of the branches of Christianity seem to be also present in Anabaptist Christianity. Even with all these different shades of interpretation, there are some common principles that make one an Anabaptist.

Two examples of Anabaptist principles were shared by Kurt Willems for Patheos, and I wanted to share them here as well. I think that these two lists make a perfect summary of Anabaptist Christianity, and can help those who find this site understand our stance. In fact, there was recently a comment on this site that said the Young Anabaptist Radicals was “anti-Anabaptist”. It was a very strange comment, and seemed to limit Anabaptism to a very small category of beliefs. So, sharing these principles may help people understand just how broad the tradition we claim is, while also giving them an introduction to it.

Core Convictions of the Anabaptist Network

1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.

6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.

7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.


12 Principles of Anabaptism

1. A high view of the Bible.
While not worshipping the Bible itself, for that would be bibliolatry, Anabaptists accept “the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, and through the Holy Spirit…the infallible guide to lead men to faith in Christ and to guide them in the life of Christian discipleship.” Anabaptists insist that Christians must always be guided by the Word, which is to be collectively discerned, and by the Spirit.

2. Emphasis on the New Testament.
Since Christ is God’s supreme revelation, Anabaptists make a clear functional distinction between the equally inspired Old and New Testaments. We see an old and a new covenant. We read the Old from the perspective of the New and see the New as the fulfillment of the Old. Where the two differ, the New prevails, and thus Anabaptist ethics are derived primarily from the New Testament.

3. Emphasis on Jesus as central to all else.
Anabaptists derive their Christology directly from the Word and emphasize a deep commitment to take Jesus seriously in all of life. Such a view runs counter to notions that the commands of Jesus are too difficult for ordinary believers or that Jesus’ significance lies almost entirely in providing heavenly salvation. Rather, salvation of the soul is part of a larger transformation.

4. The necessity of a believers’ church.
Anabaptists believe that Christian conversion, while not necessarily sudden and traumatic, always involves a conscious decision. “Unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Believing that an infant can have no conscious, intelligent faith in Christ, Anabaptists baptize only those who have come to a personal, living faith. Voluntary baptism, together with a commitment to walk in the full newness of life and to strive for purity in the church, constitutes the basis of church membership.

5. The importance of discipleship.
Becoming a Christian involves not only belief in Christ but also discipleship. Faith is expressed in holy living. In Christ, salvation and ethics come together. Not only are we to be saved through Christ, but we are also to follow him daily in obedient living. Thus, for example, Anabaptists from the beginning renounced the oath. They determined to speak truth. “For them there could be no gradations of truth-telling.” Anabaptists continue to teach that salvation makes us followers of Jesus Christ and that he is the model for the way we are to live.

6. Insistence on a church without classes or divisions.
The church, the body of Christ, has only one head. While acknowledging functional diversity, Anabaptist believers set aside all racial, ethnic, class and sex distinctions because these are subsumed in the unity and equality of the body.

7. Belief in the church as a covenant community.
Corporate worship, mutual aid, fellowship and mutual accountability characterize this community. An individualistic or self centered Anabaptism is a contradiction in terms.

8. Separation from the world.
The community of the transformed belongs to the kingdom of God. It functions in the world but is radically separate from the world. The faithful pilgrim church sees the sinful world as an alien environment with thoroughly different ethics and goals. This principle includes separation of church and state. Therefore, Anabaptists reject all forms of civil religion, be it the traditional corpus Christianum or more recently developed forms of Christian nationalism.

9. The church as a visible counterculture.
As a united fellowship of believers every Anabaptist congregation models an alternate community. Such a covenant community functions as an authentic counterculture.

10. Belief that the gospel includes a commitment to the way of peace modelled by the Prince of Peace.
Here Anabaptists differ from many other Christians. Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation – the way of love – as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.

11. Commitment to servanthood.
Just as Christ came to be a servant to all, so Christians should also serve one another and others in the name of Christ. Thus, separation from a sinful world is balanced by a witness of practical assistance to a needy and hurting society.

12. Insistence on the church as a missionary church.
Anabaptists believe that Christ has commissioned the church to go into all the world and all of society and to make disciples of all people, baptizing them and teaching them to observe his commandments. The evangelistic imperative is given to all believers. These principles constitute the essence of Anabaptism. While each emphasis can be found elsewhere, the combination of all twelve constitutes the uniqueness of Anabaptism.

The Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough. The early Anabaptists, while diverse and far from perfect, committed themselves to nothing less than the restoration of the New Testament church. We, their heirs, have the privilege of reemphasizing these twelve principles, in word and deed, here and now.

Kevin Daugherty

Comments (11)

  1. DavidC

    Welcome to Anabaptism (and YAR), Kevin. While I share with you most, if not all, of these convictions and believe they do describe much of the historic Anabaptist perspective, I think you’ll find if you stick around YAR long enough that there is a lot of disagreement even on these convictions. You’ll find, for example, that “a high view of Scripture” is contested, as is the centrality of Jesus and the idea of the church as a “missionary” church. In fact, before your recent posts, this blog was dominated by posts arguing AGAINST missions. This is not to discourage you but just to say that as you continue to interact with YAR and other neo-Anabaptist groups, don’t expect that these convictions are assumed. You’re gonna have to justify them somehow.

    Reply
  2. TimN

    David, thanks for coming out and saying this so clearly. Digital and theological spaces will always be contested to some extent, but we can and should have “meta” conversations about that dynamic. Because Anabaptism is about user-defined space. That’s what January 21, 1525 was all about. Since there is no Young Anabaptist Radicals email list or internal conversation space, the conversations about who and what YAR is and what this space is for happen in comment threads like this one.

    But of course, with public conversations, anyone you talk about is in the room with you. In this case, you’re referring to CharlieK. I’m not sure dominated is the right word since he’s posted an average of once a month here over the last year. That’s less than a third of the total posts. But his posts have clearly been much more provocative than mine, at least to regular YAR readers.

    Aside from some one off posters (who are always welcome to post more) Charlie’s been the only one besides me interested in posting regularly here. The alternative was a monologue from me and I’m very committed to a multi-voiced space. Perhaps if Kevin stays around, we can begin to shift the energy back towards a politically engaged, Anabaptist conversation. While Charlie regularly identifies with the term “Marginal Mennonite”, he hasn’t identified as an Anabaptist in his writing here. His only mention of the term is in Bruderville 2020: An urban anabaptist odyssey an essay he wrote in the 1980’s which lays out a vision in which Charlie doesn’t (explictly at least) participate.

    Charlie, if you’re out there and interested in participating, I’d be curious to know: do you identify as an Anabaptist?

    Reply
  3. TimN

    Kevin,

    When I first read this list I just saw the Anabaptist Network core convictions at the top and stopped reading because I know these quite well. I worked as the volunteer staff person for this network from 2004-2006 and these convictions embody so much of what I believe is core to Anabaptism.

    After reading more closely, I realized there was a second set of convictions in their from the United States Mennonite Brethren church. While there’s plenty of good values in there, they salt it with sexist language. I think its important to understand the broader context of this denomination. My sense is that the Mennonite Brethren have distinguished themselves from other Anabaptist traditions in some ways that I don’t agree with. Here’s how Abe Dueck puts it in Church and State: Developments Among Mennonite Brethren in Canada Since World War II:

    Although MBs are heirs of Anabaptism, other influences such as Pietism and fundamentalism affected them more than other groups such as the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC).

    Like any denominations, there’s a wide range of expressions within it, but my limited experience is that those drawn to some of the radical political expressions of their faith (as exemplified in the Anabaptist Network convictions) have drifted to other churches.

    I could write a lot more about the “neo-Anabaptist” use of the term Anabaptist compared to the USMB use of the same term, but that will have to wait for another day.

    Reply
  4. KevinD (Post author)

    Tim,

    The goal was to show the broadness of Anabaptism.

    KevinD

    Reply
  5. KevinD (Post author)

    To quote the post’s thesis: “So, sharing these principles may help people understand just how broad the tradition we claim is, while also giving them an introduction to it.”

    Reply
  6. Tim B

    Kevin, I don’t think these convictions are held by a lot of folks who frequent YAR. I seem to remember both Jesus and Scripture openly questioned on this site multiple times. Heck, I think Faith itself is often questioned here.

    Reply
  7. DavidC

    Tim, Kevin, and anyone else interested in these discussions:

    If you don’t mind a bit of self-promotion, I recently edited a book on the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelicalism that might inform this discussion. If you can’t afford the exorbitant price for the book, I’ve given short chapter summaries on my blog as well. I’ve thought about doing a post on some of the themes of the book here at YAR but (a) didn’t want to seem too self-promotional and (b) until Kevin’s post today didn’t think anyone here would be that interested. Maybe I’ll jump both of those hurdles and post something here after all. Then again, maybe not.

    Reply
  8. Joseph P

    These kinds of lists make good starting points for conversation.

    Some people have mentioned debate regarding high view of scripture and centrality of Jesus. Some thoughts… On the one hand, questioning the authority of scripture and Jesus has nothing to do with the original Anabaptists. On the other hand, questioning the assumptions of the status quo has everything to do with Anabaptists. Therefore questioning classic assumptions about scripture and Jesus might logically be deemed utterly Anabaptist or entirely un-Anabaptist.

    That said, when people express views here against the authority of scripture and Jesus, they are not necessarily arguing that their view are “anabaptist.”

    This is first time I’ve seen the USMB church mentioned on this site. Most of my ancestry is Mennonite Brethren and I believe they have a proud history. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, Anabaptism is hanging by a thread in the USMB denomination. Many of the denomination’s churches have removed “Mennonite” from their name and are filled with members who are unaware of their church’s Anabaptist identity. Their church colleges are keeping Anabaptism alive, but just barely. It would be great to get some Anabaptist MB’s involved here.

    Reply
  9. PeterG

    Kevin, thanks for sharing this! I hadn’t ever seen the USMB resource and really appreciate it. I’ve found these kind of lists to be really quite helpful and great for discussion.

    A number of years ago, Mennonite World Conference requested its constituent Anabaptist groups to submit a list of core convictions. The results can be found here. I have reproduced Mennonite Church USA’s contribution below. One thing I liked about it was that every item was focused on Jesus, and it’s somewhat less dogmatic than traditional confessional language:

    Draft 14 Nov 02

    Mennonite Church USA

    Response to Mennonite World Conference request
    for perspectives on core convictions

    Reference committee members: Myron Augsburger, Lois Barrett (writer), Malinda Berry, Ron Byler (convener), Marco Guete, Nelson Kraybill, Ruth Naylor, John Powell and Jim Schrag

    The center of our conviction is Jesus, the Christ.
    “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

    The basis of our unity is Jesus Christ, not merely doctrine or tradition. All our common core convictions are founded in the life, teaching, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Jesus in his body, the church. Through Jesus, the church interprets all of Scripture.

    Conversion is turning from sin, evil, and false gods to Jesus Christ. Jesus began his ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). In Jesus, God’s rule and God’s action are becoming known in the world as good news for those who repent. We understand conversion as both an event and a journey. Conversion is a turning from sin, from evil, and from false gods – and a turning to Jesus Christ, who shows us the one true God. This event of covenant and new identity, of which water baptism is the sign in the church, is the beginning of a journey of ongoing conversion. The Holy Spirit, who prepared us for conversion and worked in us in conversion, continues to challenge, change, and renew us throughout our lives as Christians.
    With Jesus, we put ourselves completely into God’s hands. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Those who are converted and regenerated follow Jesus Christ, who put himself completely in to the hands of God. This central act of spirituality was known to the European Anabaptists in the sixteenth century as Gelassenheit, which we often translate as “yieldedness.” This yieldedness is not merely passivity, but yielding our will to God’s will, opening ourselves to letting God’s Spirit work through us, seeking first the reign of God and its righteousness, not taking vengeance into our own hands, letting God lead us into risky situations, trusting in God for resurrection beyond death, and depending on God’s final victory in the new heaven and the new earth.
    Obeying Jesus, the church gives its worship and allegiance to God alone. Tempted with the kingdoms of the world, Jesus countered, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:7). Beginning with Abraham and Sarah, God has been calling together a people of faith, to give their worship and allegiance to God alone. The Christian church is now that holy nation, the new Israel, meant to give glory to God and to declare the mighty acts of the One who has called us from darkness into light. As God’s people reaching around the world, the church is often called to speak truth to power and to witness to the nations, so that the wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers. As the people of God, the church is in the world, but not of the world. The church is called to be holy, to be different from the society around it for Christ’s sake, and yet to be engaged with its society in order to give witness to the gospel. In the United States today, the Christian church is especially challenged to be different from the dominant culture – and to witness to that culture – in relationship to peace and nonviolence, to simple living and just economics, and to understanding what it means to live in the midst of a superpower.
    With Jesus, the church prays to be a visible sign of God’s kingdom. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). As the church regularly prays the Lord’s Prayer, this community of regenerated believers commits itself to be a sign of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” The church is to be the visible sign of the kingdom in the world, both in its life together and in its outreach. The church is to be the preview, or foretaste, of the age to come. In the presence of Christ in the midst of the church, the reign of God is taking form. The practices and rituals of the church become a sign of God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done: through baptism and the Lord’s supper, through loving accountability, through Spirit-led decision making, through the intentional formation of disciples, through letting the Scriptures shape us, through hospitality that welcomes the stranger across boundaries of race, culture, gender, and class.
    Jesus sends the church to participate in God’s mission. Jesus commissioned his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you . . . Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21, 22). Jesus now sends the church into the world, just as God sent him. We share Christ’s mission of reconciling the world to God. The church is called to discern its missional vocation, to point to God’s actions in the world, to align itself with what God is doing in the world, to share the good news with others, to guide them to commitment to Jesus’ way, and to both speak and act on our faith. We are assured that, in this mission, the Holy Spirit goes ahead of us and goes with us.
    Like Jesus, we teach and practice love across boundaries, even love of enemies. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45a). Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, we also love. God’s love is so big that we dare not limit it to our friends or to people who seem to be just like us. Our love must reach even to our enemies, to those who hurt us or would even kill us. With Jesus on the cross, we are called to pray for enemies and to forgive them. We understand this love to imply peacemaking, rejecting violence and killing, upholding the sacredness of all human life, overcoming evil with good, striving for justice that restores people to right relationship, and refusing to participate in war in any form.
    Salvation and discipleship, knowing Jesus Christ and following him, are closely connected. “Those who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Likewise, “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:21, 23). Salvation and discipleship are intertwined. This should not be misunderstood as legalism or salvation by works. Instead, this acknowledges the necessary link between knowing Christ and following Christ. Neither can happen independently. Those who know Christ will keep his word; at the same time, Christ comes to those who follow him and reveals more of himself.

    Reply
  10. PeterG

    I’d also like to say that I’d love to see MBs participate here. Many of the MBs I know around central Kansas are very Anabaptist. In fact, they may have a more holistic Anabaptist expression than some other groups identifying as Anabaptist. Tabor College (MB affiliate) has excellent faculty (and I say this as a rival Bethel alum). The MB seminary in Fresno also has excellent faculty who have contributed a number of important books and commentaries in recent years from a decidedly Anabaptist perspective.

    Regarding contributions to this site, I’d love to contribute pieces, but by the time Sunday’s sermon is finished, I generally don’t feel like doing much more writing. Moreover, I don’t know what kind of content readers would find interesting. I guess it could be interesting for the pastors who frequent here to contribute a sermon (or excerpt) from time to time.

    Reply
  11. TimN

    Peter, there’s certainly space to post sermons here on YAR if you like. Isaac Villegas, pastor at Chapel Hill Mennonite in North Carolina, is someone who has posted is sermons here occasionally. You can see some of them here.

    I took a look at your sermon blog and I think Foolishness for Christ could be a good fit for YAR if it were shortened a little.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *